Head coach Jon Gruden said there would be changes on defense after the 42-21 loss to the Titans. After his press conference, the Raiders announced they would part ways with Safety D.J. Swearinger, LB Preston Brown, and DT Terrell McClain.
Swearinger only played in Silver and Black for a short time, but there was a marked decline in the amount of man coverage Paul Guenther could call with the journeyman safety in the game. As a result, the Raiders employed multiple configurations of defensive backfields in the last several week. Erik Harris, Curtis Riley, Daryl Worley, and Swearinger all saw time at the position.
In Gruden’s most recent press conference, he confirmed that Worley would be the next man up at the safety position, saying “Worley has some game changing ability” at the position.
Let’s take a look at his safety reps so far this year and draw our own conclusions from the tape:
Playing safety in the box requires physicality and an understanding of run fits. Box safeties are asked to play man coverage on TEs in Paul Guenther’s scheme. Worley is good enough in this area to not be a downgrade from Swearinger, but he’s certainly not as good in this role as Erik Harris is or Karl Joseph was.
In this clip, Worley is in man coverage on the H-Back in the backfield. Against this alignment the H-Back will frequently “insert” into the run game and add an extra gap that needs to be filled. Worley does a great job filling this extra gap and showing that he isn’t afraid to stick his nose in the fan. This play shows how Worley can handle box responsibilities on run downs.
Perhaps the game-changing ability Gruden was alluding to comes from this clip. Worley has TE Travis Kelce in man coverage. When the TE stays in pass protection, Worley converts his man coverage into a rush. This is a common sight in Guenther’s scheme, but also a credit Worley for making a snap decision, likely fueled by film study. He gets the pressure on the QB and helps make this play.
The area where Worley represents the biggest upgrade by far is his ability to play man coverage on tight ends. If he makes a full-time switch to safety this week or at a later date, it would make sense for him to play in the box and help the defense lock down big men in Cover 1. The clip above shows two examples from different weeks of Worley making big time pass break-ups against TEs.
While Guenther can keep Worley in the box in Cover 1 or 3, he can’t hide him in the Raiders’ split field coverages. The Raiders defense will often play Quarters coverage, Cover 2, and 2-Man. This is the biggest question of how Worley will impact the game and help out in coverage.
In Worley’s first game at safety back in Week 2, he struggled to execute the Raiders quarters scheme. He had a blown coverage that led to the Chiefs first TD, and that play wasn’t an isolated incident. In the above clip, Worley is in quarters coverage is working with Curtis Riley to match the vertical routes in the middle of the field. The underneath defenders are in an acceptable back shoulder position because they are counting on Worley to stay over the top. He incorrectly identifies which route to buy and covers the same guy that Curtis Riley takes, leaving another receiver to streak down the field. He gets bailed out by Mahomes targeting a different receiver.
Fast forward to Week 13 and unfortunately we see a similar example when the defense is in Cover 2. Worley’s responsibility is to remain as deep as the deepest man to his half of the field. Feeling a vertical threat from the inside seam, he opens his hips to buy the seam. The only problem is the CB is covering the flat and allows the outside receiver to run free thinking Worley will be there in coverage. Luckily for the Raiders, Maurice Hurst notches a sack on Mahomes before the QB can fire the ball to the deep, open receiver.
Worley will be fine as the box safety. He might not be a thumper like we are accustomed to watching, but he is a sound tackler and one of the few cornerbacks who can physically handle the demands of the position switch.
The do-it-all defensive back has already proven capable of defending TEs better than any current option on the roster. Look forward to Worley helping solve this problem that has been plaguing this defense for years
In Paul Guenther’s split field zone schemes, Worley will need to step up in a major way. Quarters coverage especially is predicated upon communication and matching the route concepts the offense throws at the defense. If everyone isn’t on the same page, the scheme doesn’t work and will give up big plays, which is exactly what the Raiders are trying to prevent by switching Worley to safety.